But the wheels still aren’t turning. Productivity is lagging. Something’s wrong.
There’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that is palpable.
So you try pushing harder – and it only gets worse. Key members of your team start leaving.
You are confused and frustrated. “Aren’t I doing all the right things?”
Finally, you decide to attend one of the exit interviews for another departing staffer.
And it comes out. “You didn’t treat us fairly – some people got special treatment. We were afraid to confront you about it”
It hits you hard. “Me? Not being fair? Of course I’m fair”
“What about how you treated that person in sales – he was late all the time, and we were always getting complaints from clients about not returning calls. Meantime, if someone in another department was late, or treated customers that way, they were disciplined or asked to leave”
You are taken aback, and blurt out “Well, salespeople are a different breed – and they generate revenue!”
There’s silence in the room, and you suddenly realize the folly in that statement. You WERE playing favorites. You were bending rules for what you thought was the “greater good”.
That’s why you were oblivious to it – your fear of failure (because of a fired salesperson) blinded you. You turned away because the sales were streaming in, without realizing the effect it was having on everyone else.
It killed your credibility, despite everything else you did as a leader.
That’s one hard lesson to learn.
You realize that in order for your leadership to really thrive, you have to be consistently (and relentlessly) fair with ALL the people you lead.
If you are going to make rules for ALL, they MUST be for ALL.
There’s typically no asterisk in the employee handbook that says “there may be exemptions to this rule as determined by the person who wrote them”.
Yes, common sense says that there can be (rare) exceptions. There can be leniency. There can be forgiveness. But it must be done in an evenhanded way, where the scale isn’t tilted too far in one particular direction.
In many respects, a fairness imbalance can be more damaging than severe tilts one way or another (i.e. too lenient on everybody, or too hard on everybody) because of its insidious nature – it just can sneak up on you, and when it does, it’s often too late to do anything about it.
So how can we avoid this credibility killer?
It’s really all about putting a daily internal mantra of “FAIRNESS” in your conscious mind, AND conquering the fears that cause any lapses in that fairness.
There’s always a fear that “If I do let this person go (or discipline the person), something bad will happen“. Like in the case of the salesperson – we’re afraid we could lose valuable revenue, and thus, we’d fall short in what we are accountable for.
Or, consider the case of someone who’s just screwing up all the way around, but you don’t let go because of a possible heated confrontation, or because the person is also a best friend, or because they are the nephew of the owner – all potential “bad happenings” that keep us from acting.
When these fears strike, just remember this – while there could be a short term pain, the long-term effect of not acting will be far worse.
Believe me, I’ve been there – as I’m sure many others have. Learn from us.
As I moved forward as a leader I realized that one of the best possible complements I could ever get was “I respect him – he treats everyone fairly“. Keep that “FAIRNESS” mantra going and that fear in check, and you’ll sure be hearing that a lot too.